San Cristobal de las Casas is one of those places that you probably didn’t know existed but once you visit, you can’t believe you didn’t go sooner. Still under the radar of many international tourists, San Cristobal, Mexico is a little mountain town, tucked away at 7,200 feet in the state of Chiapas. It is heavily influenced by both Spanish colonization and the Indigenous Mayan population. This European style mixed with traditional Mayan culture makes San Cristobal unlike any other town in Mexico. Stealing the hearts of travelers near and far, it’s a bohemian, artsy, cultural melting pot that people visit and forget to leave.
One of Mexico's 132 “Pueblo Magicos” (Magic Towns), San Cristobal de las Casas certainly lives up to its name. Rows of houses line its cobblestone streets and windy alleys. Street art often makes political statements and elaborate, psychedelic murals cover numerous buildings. You’d struggle to find a place taller than two stories, and most buildings look unassuming from the outside. Once inside you’ll find yourself wandering through a maze of rooms or hallways vibrantly decorated with color and art.
Whether you’re an artist looking for inspiration, a history buff, a budding revolutionary, or simply a curious traveler, San Cristobal De Las Casas should be at the top of your bucket list.
What Makes San Cristobal So Special?
One of the most interesting things about San Cristobal is the contrast of cultures and the activist spirit of the people. San Cristobal is no stranger to rebellion and politics and its people seize their right to speak out.They have experienced and witnessed decades of unrest. As a responsible tourist in San Cristobal it’s important to recognize its unique history and how it impacts the present.
San Cristobal de las Casas is home to one of the largest proportions of Indigenous people in Mexico, with a high percentage being Tzotzil Maya. Ever since Spanish colonization threatened to wipe out the Indigenous populations, people have been fighting to remain on their land and to preserve their cultures. Despite having a large and influential presence throughout San Cristobal today, they have suffered and continue to fight for their rights.
This struggle has attracted international attention, in particular the 1997 Acteal massacre that killed 45 Indigenous people and the Zapatista movement for Indigenous rights that eventually resulted in an uprising against the Mexican government in the mid 90’s are well known examples. This recent history heavily influences the culture and spirit of San Cristobal De las Casas.
Today, San Cristobal has taken center stage in its support for the feminist movement and fight against femicide in Mexico. The city vividly reflects its strong, outspoken people. They fight to change the world by turning their struggles into art, expressing themselves through music, dance, poetry and paintings. The strength of the people and their activism is what I quickly fell in love with during my first visit.
Many may be intimidated by the social issues boldly being addressed here, but it's one of its most defining features. The open acknowledgement of its different cultures combined with the passion to demand a better world, is what makes San Cristobal de las Casas so inspiring!
Where to Stay in San Cristobal de las Casas:
One of the best things about San Cristobal is just how walkable it is, making green transportation easy for all. You can essentially stay just about anywhere in the city and it will be a convenient and exciting location. However there are some areas that may be slightly superior.
If you want to be right in the heart of things, Barrio de Guadalupe is the best choice. Since this is the main touristy neighborhood, try to choose accommodation that may not get as much business as the ones that are right on the popular walking street, Real de Guadalupe.
If you want to be slightly removed from the hustle and bustle but still surrounded by fun things to do and beautiful views, I recommend Barrio de Cerrillo. It’s more residential and it does require walking up some hills but the views and privacy are worth it.
It’s relatively easy to find a sustainable accommodation option here. There are numerous family owned, local hotels in San Cristobal, as well as a plethora of hostels and Airbnb’s to choose from.
16 Sustainable Things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas
- Be an ally to the women’s movement – support women owned businesses. There are wonderful art galleries, and cultural centers run by local women. Some of my favorites are: Kikimundo, a feminist art gallery and restaurant, Libreria La Cosecha, a feminist bookstore that hosts readings and workshops, and Mi Casa, a Taiwanese restaurant that features different local artists, live music and game nights.
- Support local artists and learn more about the local culture by visiting one of the many cultural centers in town. Some of my favorites are Pulqueria La Mayahuel, a family owned restaurant that hosts poetry nights, music and drag shows, Kinoki, an independent cinema, coworking space and bar or Frontera, an artisan coffee shop that features a wonderful courtyard filled with local businesses. They often have live music and weekend markets.
- Shop at the numerous local artisan markets and boutiques. San Cristobal De las Casas shopping is absolutely fantastic and recognized as some of the best in Mexico. My favorite market is Mercado de la Caridad y Santo Domingo, which features many different arts, crafts and clothing made locally. Bring cash.
- Support the numerous Indigenous businesses in town like Belil Sabores Chiapas, an Indigenous woman owned restaurant where everything is grown organically and locally, or Taniperla, a restaurant that hosts gatherings, music and features Indigenous art.
- The Indigenous villages in San Cristobal have become quite the tourist attraction. If you’re going to visit, please do so respectfully and be sure to support the local businesses while there. Tours by Locals has an awesome sustainable tour worth checking out.
- Buy your groceries and food locally. Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a wonderful organic market at Plaza de la Paz. On any given day, however, you can find produce stands, cheese shops, bakeries and artisan markets throughout town. The street with the most options would be Diego Dugelay.
- Take the free walking tour! This runs daily at 10 am and 5 pm, meeting at the cross at Plaza de la Paz. Led by locals who love their city so much they volunteer to show you around for free, it’s a great way to discover local businesses and hidden sights.
- Do a pox tasting at Poxna. Pox is a local liquor made from corn and agave. Poxna is one of the only places left that still makes Pox the traditional way and they offer a free tasting. If you like it, make sure to purchase a bottle of their artisan Pox – I recommend the hibiscus or cacao infused one.
- Enjoy any of the organic and local vegetarian restaurants throughout town. My favorite is La Casa del Pan – they have their own rooftop herb garden and a fantastic weekend buffet.
- Take a street art tour to admire the art while educating yourself on the political past and present of San Cristobal.
- Pay a visit to, and definitely support, Taller Lenateros. A wonderful bookmaking collective run by Indigenous Tzotzil Maya women, this was one of the most memorable experiences I had here. Taller Lenateros internationally published the first book ever written by Mayan women. They make everything from recycled paper and sell wonderful art, journals, and books.
- Take a day or weekend trip! There are so many things to do in Chiapas, and most are only a few hours away. Hire a local driver or take a sustainable Chiapas tour to check out the stunning nature throughout this region. If you have extra time, you can even go camping. I recommend Sumidero Canyon, Palenque, Lagos de Montebello or Cascadas el Chiflón. Don’t forget your bathing suit, and hiking shoes.
- Eat your way through the best local goodies in San Cristobal de las Casas- that means cheese, chocolate, and coffee. I recommend Quesos Chiapas for the best local cheese, Chocolateria Jangala for chocolate, and Libre cafe for coffee – conveniently all located on the same street.
- Don’t miss out on the beautiful sunsets here! You have two main churches, Guadalupe and San Cristobalito, that offer sweeping views of the city.
- Visit the Mayan World Textile Museum! San Cristobal De las Casas shopping is famous thanks to the traditional Indigenous textiles and crafts. This museum explores the history of the style and culture.
- Enjoy the main walking street (Real de Guadalupe) but be sure to support businesses outside of it too. Guadalupe boasts fantastic restaurants, numerous shops, and many tourists. It can be tempting to want to spend your whole trip in these four blocks, but there is so much to see outside of them. I encourage you to explore the other streets and prioritize supporting lesser known businesses throughout town.